Quebec City got very animated this week as cartoon professionals from all over the world met for the 2012 Cartoon Connection conference taking place at the Quebec Hilton. The main theme of the conference was to evaluate the benefits and successful execution of transmedia, or cross-platform marketing, for properties in the world of animation.
Cross-marketing itself is not a new phenomenon, but there are many more layers to it in the digital age. I still remember my Partridge Family lunch box. Which I packed while listening to David Cassidy (Keith Partridge) sing "I Think I Love You," and then racing home to watch a new episode of the show on television, the medium which is still mostly the anchor to cross-marketing. Of course today, the Partridge Family Experience would include a mobile app to pick Laurie's clothes, a sing along karaoke dance Xbox game, and even a "Shoot Out Tracy's Tambourine" interactive video.
Ken Faier, president of Nerd Corps, and executive producer of "SlugTerra" presented on the "Creating Brands in the New Digital Age" panel, and concurs that "The kid business has always been transmedia." When his company evaluates any new property (storyline, or show), they always think through the key elements, including the core demographic (most likely a 10-year-old boy, if it's an action game/series), what the "play mechanic" is, what media will be used to advertise to that demographic, and of course the potential retail products associated with the brand. The three key elements to a boy's action game, according to Faier, are collecting, shooting, and battling. These are always kept in mind for this particular genre, once the moral code, or storyline, has been developed.
"But is the core of transmedia just marketing? Or is it getting to a good story?" asked Lori Camm, CBeebies (BBC's kids' programming) Senior Content Producer. She suspects it's a bit of both. "If you've got a good story and good characters, the kids will go to where they are."
Ville Lepisto, animation producer with Rovio, the Finnish company that owns and produced the surprise branding hit, Angry Birds, sees a transmedia strategy as basically telling the same story over and over again, with different media. The recent launch and brand merge between Angry Birds and Star Wars seemed like a natural to Lepisto. "What would be the main cool brand to work with?" he said was the big boardroom question. "Star Wars won, hands down."
The well-known Star Wars story and the well-defined characters helped to establish this property's positioning very quickly. They used Tumblr as their key media content hub, and had a live Google hangout leading up to the release. Keeping their focus on the fans and delivering different content at the same time on different media platforms, where their fans would be, launched the property very successfully with games, toys and other associated merchandise.
But it's not just television production companies and gaming producers that are working across media platforms in an effective way. Eric Huang, New Business /IP Acquisitions Director for the Penguin Children's Group in London, is helping to lead the transformation of traditional publishing into an entertainment company. Starting with Club Penguin, which was the first free online game that kids seemed to know about before their parents did, led them to develop other similar cross media projects such as Moshi Monsters and Skylanders.
Skylanders adventures are previewed in books, prior to coming out in the games, making the books non-linear in a really non-traditional way. With new products and series such as Ollie The Boy Who Became What He Ate, strategies for product launches have changed, right from the development stages, Huang says. "Products are now conceived as cross marketed from the start, not tagged on as an afterthought." For the Ollie series, Penguin is pursuing new distribution channels as well, targeting the educational market and schools, with the distribution of 30,000 multimedia packages to London schools.
So, besides the transmedia strategies, what's the common link between these very different industries? "We're all becoming each other," says Faiers. "The thread is in the storytelling," says Huang. "We will always be publishing good stories." Lepisto agrees. "Once you come up with the story, it's easy to push it to other properties."
Kathy Buckworth was covering the Cartoon Connection as a guest of the conference. Find conference notes at #CartoonConnection. Visit www.cartoon-media.eu for more information.